Ancient Egyptian and Nubian religious beliefs and art forms linked major deities with the sun, moon, and earth.

Long ago Egyptians depicted sky deities on scrolls, coffins, vessels, amulets, and religious sculptures. They decorated certain temples with major constellations or celestial deities, including Nut, the sky goddess believed to give birth to the sun at dawn and to swallow it at sunset. In the arts of ancient Egypt, her star-studded body arches as a heavenly vault over the earth god Geb, who is separated by Shu, the god of air and life.
Discover these and other celestial deities in the artworks on view
  • Amun-Re, creator and primary sun god
  • Neith, mother of Re
  • Osiris, funerary deity who received authority from the earth god Geb
  • Isis, sister-wife of Osiris and mother of Horus
  • Horus, falcon god linked with the sun and moon
  • Thoth, lunar deity and creator of writing
  • Sopdet, the deification of Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky








Mummy board
Deir el-Bahari (Thebes), Egypt
Dynasty 21, Third Intermediate Period (c. 1075945 BCE)
Sycamore wood, clay, linen, chalk, adhesive, paint
National Museum of Natural History, Department of Anthropology, A364998

Singing the sun's praises. According to Egyptologist Lana Troy, this beautiful image was designed to cover the mummy of a woman who served as a singer in the temple of the creator/sun god Amun-Re, the most important Theban god. Her wig and jewelry indicate status and serve a protective function. In the hieroglyphic inscriptions she asks the sky goddess Nut to spread her wings over her so that she may ascend to the heavens and join the stars. Objects of this type, also known as mummy covers, were designed to protect the mummy beneath. They are constructed of several, often mass-produced, pieces that have been pegged onto a plank of sycamore wood. The smooth sculpted surface is formed with a thin layer of clay filling the crevices between the pieces. This was then covered with gesso, a mixture of chalk, vegetable adhesive, and linen.

The object comes from the well-known Bab el-Gasus tomb discovered at Deir el-Bahari. It was part of a donation made to the United States by the Egyptian government in 1893.

Figurine of Neith
Late Period, Dynasty 26 (664525 BCE)
Bronze, gold
Loaned by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, PA, purchased from Hagop Kevorkian, 1925, E14309

Mother of the world. During the New Kingdom, the goddess Neith was identified as the mother of Re, the sun deity. In this role, Neith was the mother of all, a primeval goddess who produced the world.
Unlike most other Egyptian deities who existed in family groupings of a father, mother, and child, Re did not have a consort. Instead, Re has his eye (the sun disk) and his son (the king), as well as the goddess Hathor, who wears the sun disk as a sign of her association with the sun god.

Inscribed mummy bandages
Fayum, Egypt
Ptolemaic Period (305-30 BCE)
Linen, ink
Loaned by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, PA, excavated by W. M. Flinders Petrie, funds provided by Egypt Exploration Society, 188990, E435A

All wrapped up. Mummy bandages wrapped the deceased in hieratic inscriptions from the Book of the Dead and offered vignettes of the deceased in the presence of the gods. Ancient Egyptians envisioned their heavenly realm as a landscape that divine beings navigated in sacred boats, similar to the river traffic of the living world. This bandage depicts the deceased--standing within and outside the boat--honoring Re, the sun god.

Stele of Nehemsumut
Late Period, Dynasty 26 (664525 BCE)
Wood, pigment
Loaned by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, PA, gift from Westown School, 1993, 93-7-1

Hymn to the sun god. Hymns written in hieroglyphs were inscribed on wooden stelae below images of the various manifestations of the sun god. The god Atum, commonly shown as a human male or in animal form as a ram, was the setting sun. Khepri, the scarab beetle, was the sun in the morning, while Re, the sun god, was a solar disk and the sun at noon.